Establishing Community In the Tiny House World

As long as I can remember the question has been posed on Facebook pages, in FB groups, on blogs, in real-time conversations, and in workshops.

If a tiny house community existed would you want to live there? What do you think of living in community? 

Bikers sitting around a campfire in the Kalahari Desert, Botswana. Image by Heinrich van den Berg  / Getty Images.

Bikers sitting around a campfire in the Kalahari Desert, Botswana. Image by Heinrich van den Berg / Getty Images.

The answers of course, as varied as the people responding with them. Overall though I feel as if I have seen more people align with the notion of living on their own slice of Earth than living in community. And allow me – as has become tradition – to note that the phrase “tiny house” does not necessarily denote a tiny house trailer in the style of a Tumbleweed Fencl, but rather any sort of non-conventional, small space, established as a domicile.

When my wife and I first established residency in rural eastern North Carolina we did so knowing it was a bit of an isolated environment. Afterall, we had collectively lived in 9 countries and 16 or so states including Paris, Kona, Israel, etc. We had even both lived on the road as well out of backpacks of 3000 cubic inches. Part of the allure of the countryside though was for the “breathing room” we felt we had been missing. We also wanted to do a little homesteading and micro-farming. By about the third month in NC though I began to realize there was a huge difference between the aforementioned “breathing room” and utter isolation. Sometimes days would pass where we would see only each other. At the time we hadn’t established our legal address on the land so we didn’t even have the benefit of seeing a postal carrier. If it weren’t for the Interwebs we may have been little more than exiles in a foreign land. To have interaction with even family members we typically had to travel by car a minimum of 17 miles one way. That inability to connect quickly led to doubt, boredom, concern, mild depression, and even resentment and then manifest itself in weight gain, stress headaches, short tempers, and complacency. By the sixth month I was realizing how utterly important community and interaction is to the human experience. Anthony J. D’Angelo – teacher, leader, and curriculum developer – is quoted as saying “Without a sense of caring, there can be no sense of community.” I had ceased to care and therefore I had ceased to search for a sense of community.

In order to escape the funk I realized something had to give so I dug in deep to researching the notion of community. I was wanting answers to the tough (and perhaps unanswerable questions) of:

  • What is a community?
  • Who comprises the community?
  • What is the history of the community?
  • What are the needs of a community?
  • What are the relationships within the community?

After what seemed like a combination of books, articles, blogs posts, and the like I was still stuck on the primary question.

WHAT IS A COMMUNITY?

While we traditionally think of a community as the people in a given geographical location, the word can really refer to any group sharing something in common. This might refer to smaller geographic areas — a neighborhood, a housing project or development, a rural area — or to a number of other possible communities within a larger, geographically-defined community. Community can be established by race or ethnicity, professional associations, religious beliefs, cultural notions, and even shared backgrounds. In fact, if you are reading this post and following this blog chances are you feel connected to the tiny house community. You have daily exchanges with others in the community. Personally I identify most with the Christian community, the tiny house community, the RV and fulltime family community, and the Florida State Alumni community. Those are the groups I find myself wanting to spend time and energy with and around. Community doesn’t have to be insulatory though. Various communities can certainly overlap.

An African-American,  Catholic, art teacher, for example, might see himself (or be seen by others) as a member of the black, arts, and/or education communities, as well as of a particular faith community. An Italian woman may become an intensely involved member of the ethnic and cultural community of her Jewish husband. I don’t think a person belongs to just one community when observed under the microscope. And a person should not feel the pressure to do so.

In those first months of tiny house living I was missing the larger picture. I was trying to desperately to take my whole existence and make others accept it. I was making little to no attempt to become part of my new “life.” The result was I didn’t seem to fit in anywhere. I was removed from my interest communities and my geographic one.  I was a square peg trying to force myself into a round hole. I was missing an understanding of the community I had moved to and how the new relationship could be mutually beneficial.

Farmers

My new home was – and still is – a unique place along the eastern seaboard mixing the farming world with the beach world. Jeans are formal wear. Flip flops are sacred. Wal-mart is the community meeting hall and the most predominant landmark for travel. Johnny Cash is on par with the 4th Beatle and the 13th disciple. My community is full of folks who can put their hands in the dirt and tell you what will grow and what won’t, what the pH level is, and how to improve it all. My people can make a feast of cornmeal and anything that once had a pulse and can find fresh fish in a puddle leftover from an afternoon shower. They are kind but like most groups, stick to their own kind. Understanding this was paramount to understanding community. Once I began to embrace them they began to embrace me and we quickly formed a friendship. I had found community and again found peace.

What about you? Do you value community? How have you found community in your environment? 

Next week I hope to talk about 5 Effective Ways to Become Part of a Community. Y’all come back now, ya hear?

By Andrew M. Odom for the [Tiny House Blog]

 

“Surviving” with Mom in a Tiny House

Melia Robinson, a writer for The Business Insider, recently spend a three nights in a tiny house for rent in Plattsburgh, New York with her mom. Her reasons for doing it were simple, but her experience was far from ideal. What she and her mother experienced might explain why some people avoid moving into a tiny house or give up on the dream after just a short amount of time. Before buying or building your own tiny house—giving one or two of them a spin might give you better inside into the lifestyle and the best designs.

tiny-house-plattsburgh

Melia wanted to see if size really did matter and wanted to experience what a 168 square foot “micro home” could offer. She mentioned in her article that not only are tiny homes cozy and easier to manage but monthly bills would start to look like “chump change.” Melia and her mother, Vickie, rented The Little Great Camp Cabin owned by Les Delorimier near Lake Champlain. The tiny cabin has a living and dining area with a breakfast table, a small balcony with two chairs, a sleeping loft and a small bathroom with a flush camping toilet and shower. The house was built over the course of a winter for $26,000. The house has electricity and lighting and propane for cooking and heating water.

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What Melia and her mother liked best about their stay in the tiny house was the feeling of being in a treehouse and how the small space forces you to downsize. They also appreciated how close they could be to each other and how the small space also allowed them to seek out their own relaxation areas: mother took the downstairs futon and daughter took the loft. On the other hand, what became problematic was the issue of too much stuff. Each of the women’s personal items spread around the house and Melia realized that their current lifestyle did not fit into 168 square feet.

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Other issues the women faced was the feeling of being cooped up, using the more basic toilet and dealing with subsequent odors, having to take turns in the kitchen and the inability to sit or stand up in the sleeping loft. In the end, mother and daughter relished having to go back to their current homes with designated areas for sleeping, eating and going to the bathroom and admitted they were “gluttons for space.”

and-real-talk-when-someone-went-no-2-the-house-had-to-be-evacuated-the-bathrooms-proximity-to-the-kitchen-was-equally-disturbing-the-folding-door-did-not-i-repeat-did-not-seal-odors-well-and-you-had-to-wash-your- a-few-hours-later-however-our-stuff-spilled-into-disarray-were-over-packers-and-the-tiny-houses-sense-of-minimalism-didnt-necessarily-accommodate-our-lifestyle-it-made-me-uneasy-to-see-our-floor-space-disappear-s

Photos by Melia Robinson/The Business Insider

 

By Christina Nellemann for the [Tiny House Blog]

 

 

St. Helens Oregon High School Tiny House Project

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It started out a neat enough idea. Apply for a Lowes grant for $4000, build a couple (very) tiny homes for the student’s education and experience, and then sell them on Craigslist. I’m smiling (ruefully) thinking about the “if I’d only known then” concept. You see, when you manage a class of 20-30 2nd year high school woodworking students, neatness never really enters the equation? I teach a woodworking/building construction program at St Helens High School in Oregon. The student’s introduction to the tiny house building class is a one semester (half year) class consisting of learning the basics of machine and tool use, measuring, and basic wood vocabulary as they work through 5-6 projects. It is a regimented class and if you fall behind, usually you stay that way unless you have the with-it-ness to come in during lunch or after school. ?So it is only with a half year of introductory woodworking that I launched into building a couple tiny houses. And unlike some really good high school programs building complete houses every year or two, we were going to do everything ourselves instead of subbing out the majority of it.

My dad has this saying “Two people can live just as cheaply as one, for half as long” and it sure played out on this project. Instead of half the class working on each house, my 4 or 5 best students did all the work on both houses, which meant twice as long to complete anything. You see, I was excited about the project, but convincing a 15 year old to take his or her time and do something right translates to them not doing it at all. It was a rough go.

So, after three years of watching the majority of the work be completed by 2-3 students each year, we have two tiny houses up for sale!

Blue Floor Plan

To start with, all of my students were required to bring in at least three pictures of tiny homes that they actually liked the looks of and after throwing those all out the door because of budget we ended up just drawing our own in Google Sketchup. The houses are both 6’x 8’ and roughly 12’ to the peak. Since the houses vary quite a bit I’ll just give you the rundown in a list format.
The blue house: $5000?35 year roofing?Hardiplank Siding – Stucco board and bat finish?Hardwood flooring?Sheep wool insulation!?Custom high density mattress with cover?Custom lockable door with Brink’s Home Security™ Push Pull Rotate™ Door Knob?Sink with venting and 1 ½” drain line to the exterior (hose bib hook up)?Electrical consisting of one GFCI outlet, 4 standard, two 3-way light switches, and 3 lights?Hinged loft that swings down for more room?Custom modifiable table/workbench/2nd bed/bench seat lets you decide what is important to you!?5 Windows and custom trimwork

The Brown house: $3500 ?35 year roofing?Hardiplank Siding – Stucco board and bat finish?Hardwood flooring?Fiberglass insulation?Custom lockable door with Brink’s Home Security™ Push Pull Rotate™ Door Knob?Custom trimwork?Electrical consisting of 3 outlets, 2 interior lights and dual exterior lighting?Open floor plan
No Street of Dreams here, these are high school 2nd year students building homes for experience, so understand that character and education is featured throughout! Gaps, scratches, and bowed sheetrock come free with no extra charge! We guarantee our work until it leaves the school property. =)

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Oregon Shepard donated the sheep wool insulation for the blue house which proved to be a good experience for the students. The sheetrock mudding and taping turned out to be my biggest disaster as is evident by the finished product. Since the majority of my students wanted to work on their own products (end tables, step stools, cutting boards, gun racks, etc.) I had considerable less time overseeing the actual work on the houses and it was fairly depressing for a couple specific students to have me come in at the end of the period and cringe. It wasn’t their fault, at that time they just didn’t know enough to know enough.
We ended up spending quite a bit more money than we intended with student “experiences,” but that is what we do here.

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My hope for the future is that somebody is planning on building a tiny house, but wants to do the finish work themselves. That way our class can do all the basics of framing, siding, electrical, plumbing, insulation, and whatever wall covering material they want, but let the customer detail it out themselves. It is probably a long shot, but we have plenty of good building construction projects lined up until we make that decision.

If anyone is interested in watching the initial building process, we made a short video about it, complete with thoughts from Dee Williams! Enjoy!

http://vimeo.com/67363004
Joe Mauck
St. Helen’s High School
Building Construction Department
2375 Gable Road, St. Helens OR 97051
Office: 503-366-7416
Cell: 503-490-6350
http://www.sthelens.k12.or.us//Domain/140

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